Sound lessons for the hearing impaired

Alex Paulson learns how to manage the Mariners Store at Junior Achievement World.

Picture this: A family seated around the dinner table, eating and talking finances.

Not exactly a popular or riveting subject to start with, said Tim Anderson, finance manager for Junior Achievement Washington. But one made all the more challenging when a child is deaf.

Enter the Deaf 2 Deaf Experience.

For two days last week, deaf and hard-of-hearing students throughout the state met with professionals at Junior Achievement World in Auburn who deal with those impairments.

Students worked out of the Finance Park and BizTown, two simulated, mini-cities that place children in real-world situations where they learn to run businesses and maintain a personal budget.

“Less and less people talk about finances at the home,” Anderson said. “They don’t sign it to their deaf or hard-of-hearing children. This puts into practice talking about how important a budget is.”

Oscar Jefferson of Tacoma said through an interpreter that it was the first time he’d talked about finances.

“I learned from the deaf adults here about credit scores and how important they are,” he said. “It’s not just something I should slough off. It’s really crucial for a good life. If you want to buy houses and cars, you better have a good credit score.”

Jefferson, 16, and Cristian Martinez-White, 14, who traveled north from Vancouver to attend the event, said they gained good perspectives on how to balance their bank accounts based on life decisions.

“I learned how to juggle finances, like figuring out how much money I’m going to get in net salary and how much my income would be,” Martinez-White said through an interpreter. “How much I need to budget for X, Y and Z based upon what my expenses are.”

The financial component was only one element of the Deaf 2 Deaf Experience. Cathy Corrado, who taught 28 years in Tacoma Public Schools before she became a literacy specialist for the Washington State Center for Childhood Deafness & Hearing Loss (CDHL) and project manager with the Deaf 2 Deaf Experience, was one of the forces behind the event.

Before 2008, Corrado sent students to Biz Town, which typically was a program for non-hearing impaired fifth-graders in the Puget Sound region.

“Every time my kid had to go, I had to send an interpreter,” she said. “I wanted 100 percent access. I want them to go to any store and sign, pay their bill or buy something.”

Carol Carrothers, the state’s deaf/hard-of-hearing services coordinator, said elementary-school-aged students are engaged for a day at a specific BizTown establishment, such as a print shop, where they are assigned roles ranging from employee to chief executive officer. Each is paid with BizTown bucks – they learn to fill out a deposit slip – and can spend that money at other businesses.

Juan Ramirez, a 13-year-old from Federal Way, was the CEO at the business journal, where his twin brother, Jake, worked for him. Ramirez said dealing with others was the toughest part of the job.

“I have to be honest with people when they come in and ask questions about maybe something being wrong or how much something cost in the pay,” he said through an interpreter.

Coming together

Rick Hauan, executive director for CDHL, a state agency that provides support for students, parents, and families througout the state, said developing that rapport is part of the goal.

“It’s focusing on bringing deaf students together from all over the state as well as their family so we can have parent and student training,” he said. “It provides access for students in a way that we haven’t been able to do in the past.”

Corrado, noting that students had traveled to Auburn from small cities in Eastern Washington, shared like sentiments.

“There might be one deaf kid in the whole county,” she said. “How do you get to meet? A lot of it is socializing. They’re meeting each other. There’s kids just like them. Some sign, some talk, and some do both.”

The first day presented Boeing engineers and executives with Amazon and Boeing, all of whom were deaf and hard-of-hearing. Instead of a panel — not the best setting for “shy parents” to ask questions, Corrado said — parents and students were able to meet with them in small groups.

“It was a good experience for them to meet deaf adults,” she said. “They very seldom get to meet them. I wanted the parents to see, ‘Yeah, you can.’ “

Jefferson said he has developed an interest in being a certified deaf interpreter, a position he did not know existed before the Deaf 2 Deaf Experience.

Martinez-White already knew coming in that he wants to be a small-business owner, but the experience, he said, taught him about some of the challenges that come with that, like obtaining a bank loan. He remains undeterred in his vision, though.

“I want to own my own gym,” he said. “I would love to have a nice workout room and a court where teenagers could come with adult supervision. Have somewhere to go, socialize and have a good physical life. I think adults might be able to drop their kids off there and rest assured they’re safe.”

Corrado said the Deaf 2 Deaf Experience brought in about 140 younger students and 70 older ones. For Finance Park, Anderson said, the cost per student is $65, but sponsors reduce that to $15. A grant through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation covers the rest. Anderson said the sponsors serve another purpose, too.

“If it said, Harry’s Banking, it’s not as much impact as, say, Wells Fargo,” he said.

While Washington is the only state with the Deaf 2 Deaf Experience today, Hauan said, CDHL has hosted visitors from Alaska and Oregon who are looking into setting up their own.

Jefferson said he was happy with the experience.

“It’s a wonderful benefit for deaf kids so we know we have a good future,” he said.

Hauan was hopeful that all of the guests had a similar outcome.

“People look at deafness as a disability, and it really isn’t,” he said. “It’s just a different way of living. This breaks down the barriers, gives them unfettered access to one another and to really say the sky’s the limit.

“There’s a big, bright world out there, and it’s not just me on a farm in Chewelah. We can come here and we realize there’s unlimited possibilities. It’s really about painting that picture.”

PHOTO BELOW:

Peter Quint helps Samson Abraham with the workings of a McDonald’s at Junior Achievement World. Deaf and hearing-impaired kids worked out of the Finance Park and BizTown to learn how to run businesses and maintain a personal budget. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter